|By Allan I. Ross|
East Lansing entrepreneur taps into global ‘Game of Thrones’ replica marketThe warehouse of Chris Beasley’s East Lansing business is stocked with replicate swords, shields, daggers and helmets from the hit HBO show “Game of Thrones.” Some of the blades have names: Ice, Longclaw, Catspaw. One shield bears a direwolf; one of the helmets is shaped like a snarling metallic dog.
Mounted on the wall behind beside Beasley´s desk is a massive warhammer; it’s nearly 4 feet long, weighs about 10 pounds, three of its four business ends are tipped with inch-long spikes and “FURY” is emblazoned across its face.
“That’s King Robert’s Warhammer,” Beasley said. “If they don’t sell out, I’m all set for the zombie apocalypse.”
Beasley, 32, manufactures and sells this officially licensed “Thrones” merchandise, as well as items based on the show’s source material, George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels. He launched his venture, Valyrian Steel in 2007 (the company takes its name from the magically imbued metal from the series’ mythology). Beasley said he’s been fascinated by castles and medieval warfare for as long as he can remember, but he didn’t get into collecting until the “Lord of the Rings” started releasing merchandise based on the films in the early ‘00s.
“I started ordering swords, then I started selling them, and I was doing very well,” he said.
In 2006, the Tennessee-based production company that had been licensed to make the “Rings” merch went bankrupt, but rather than retire as a Middle-earth middleman, he moved up the ladder.
“I took the profits I’d made to launch a career as a manufacturer,” he said. “I hired some of the employees (from the bankrupt company), got some licenses through George R.R. Martin, and when the TV series was announced, I slipped in and got the HBO license as well.”
That’s right: He was part of the “Game of Thrones” caravan before it was cool. So what if you were the Daenerys Targaryen for Halloween last year; he’s got Martin on speed dial (Beasley works with the author directly for the novel-based products he puts out) and could probably crash the set in Ireland if he wanted to.
“ I ’ d love to see them filming it someday, but I’m so busy here,” he said. “I thought it would be great to visit the set and have them say, ‘we need a 6-foot-5 extra over here’ and have them put me in a scene.”
Beasley’s designer lives in Tennessee, and they work remotely to create the swords, helmets and shields based on Martin’s books. The designer also travels to Ireland to design materials directly on the show’s props. The designs are then sent to either China or India where they are manufactured in limited editions and shipped to East Lansing for distribution. And before you get all flag-wavy and denounce Chinesemade goods, these aren’t mass-produced sweatshop materials.
“China has been making swords for 5,000 years,” Beasley said. “That’s longer than Europeans have. These are extremely high quality products.”
Beasley moved from West Branch, Mich., to East Lansing in 1999 to attend MSU, where he studied biology and computer science. To make money, he split his time between working in one of the school’s plant labs and developing websites. He dropped out of school when he realized he could make more money on the latter.
Beasley has started approaching other fantasy authors to continue his business after the popularity of “Thrones” inevitably wanes.
He still runs content websites as well, which gives him additional monthly ad revenue.
“It’s nothing (as big as) Facebook, but we do quite well,” he said. “But obviously the focus is on the retail side. I’m no Mark Zuckerberg, but (Valyrian Steel) is very, very successful.”
He won’t dish on numbers, but get this: Beasley recently bought some property in the mountains outside Chattanooga, Tenn., and has started work on his own castle. It uses high-efficiency building materials and will be situated on a peak, about 1,600 feet above sea level. He blogs about the construction process at buildingmycastle.com, but to talk about it in person, he sounds almost … apologetic “That sounds so (materialistic), ‘I’m building a castle.’ I don’t really like to talk about it,” he said. “But it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.”
And he’ll able to defend it quite handily if those zombies ever attack.